BAGHDAD, Iraq — Iraqi police arrested eight Sunni Arabs for allegedly plotting to kill the judge who prepared the indictment of Saddam Hussein, authorities said Sunday, the day before the ousted leader's trial for crimes against humanity resumes.
Tight security surrounds the proceedings, which are restarting after a five-week recess in a specially built courtroom in the heavily guarded Green Zone. Defense lawyers say they will demand a new 45-day adjournment while the court considers motions to annul the proceedings on the ground that the American role in creating the court has voided its authority under Iraqi and international law.
The eight alleged plotters from Iraq's Sunni Arab minority were apprehended Saturday in the northern city of Kirkuk, police Col. Anwar Qadir said.
He said they were carrying written instructions from a former top Saddam deputy, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, ordering them to kill investigating judge Raed Juhi, who prepared the case against Saddam and forwarded it to the trial court in July.
"As an Iraqi citizen and a judge, I am vulnerable to assassination attempts," Juhi told The Associated Press. "If I thought about this danger, then I would not be able to perform my job. . . . I will practice my profession in a way that serves my country and satisfies my conscience."
Saddam and seven co-defendants are charged in the killing of more than 140 Shiite Muslims after an assassination attempt against the former president in the Shiite town of Dujail in 1982. Convictions could bring a sentence of death by hanging.
Insecurity from the predominantly Sunni insurgency has complicated efforts to put Saddam on trial and forced draconian measures. For example, names of four of the five trial judges have been kept secret and some of the 35 witnesses may testify behind curtains to protect them from reprisal.
Defense lawyers had threatened to boycott the proceedings after two of their colleagues were slain in two attacks following the opening session Oct. 19. However, lawyer Khamees al-Ubaidi told the AP on Sunday that the defense team would attend after an agreement with U.S. and Iraqi authorities on improving security for them.
In other Iraq news:
Iraq's former interim prime minister complained Sunday that human rights abuses by some in the new government are as bad now as they were under Saddam.
Ayad Allawi, a secular Shiite Muslim, told the London newspaper The Observer that fellow Shiites are responsible for death squads and secret torture centers and said brutality by elements of Iraqi security forces rivals that of Saddam's secret police.
"People are doing the same as Saddam's time and worse," he said. "It is an appropriate comparison."
Allawi's allegation of widespread human rights abuses follows the discovery this month of up to 173 detainees, some malnourished and showing signs of torture, in a Shiite-led Interior Ministry building in Baghdad.
The U.S. military reported that a Marine assigned to the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing was killed Saturday when his vehicle struck a roadside bomb near Camp Taqaddum, 45 miles west of Baghdad. At least 2,106 U.S. military personnel have died since the Iraq war started in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
Officials in Washington and London confirmed that four Western aid workers — an American, a Briton and two Canadians — were kidnapped in Baghdad on Saturday. The officials gave no further details, and the U.S. Embassy here issued a terse statement saying, "We are aware of the reports that an American national has gone missing and are investigating it as a matter of urgency."
A military vehicle carrying three congressmen overturned on the way to the Baghdad airport, injuring two of them, the U.S. Embassy said Sunday.
Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa., was airlifted to a military hospital in Germany for an MRI on his neck, and Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., was sent to a Baghdad hospital for evaluation, said Rep. Jim Marshall, D-Ga., who was also in the vehicle but was not hurt when it overturned Saturday.
An Iraqi government official said he expects the U.S. will probably withdraw about 30,000 troops early next year, and American forces may number less than 100,000 by 2007.
Iraqi National Security Adviser Mouwafak al-Rubaie said that while the Iraqi interim government and the U.S.-led coalition have been discussing the circumstances that will allow foreign troops to leave the country they are "not interested in a timetable" for withdrawals.
President Bush has said Iraqi forces must be able to take charge of security before the U.S. will leave. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said previously that the U.S. may be able to scale down troops to 138,000 from 159,000 currently after the parliamentary election in Iraq on Dec. 15.
Contributing: Robert H. Reid, Associated Press; John F. Burns, New York Times News Service; Joe Richter and Catherine Larkin, Bloomberg News